Film industry coalition calls for new classification between PG and M

‘Top End Wedding.’

Major and independent film distributors and exhibitors are urging the federal government to adopt a new PG13 classification which they say would benefit family-friendly Australian and international films that get M ratings.

Echoing calls by Screen Producers Australia and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, the Film Industry Associations (FIA) also advocates a uniform classification system across all delivery platforms, with self-classification by the industry, overseen by a government regulator.

“The current review system is no longer fit-for-purpose. It is expensive and unfeasibly time-consuming in an environment where digital distribution has minimised the time between the delivery of a film and its release date,” the FIA says in its submission to the government classification review.

The group represents the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia, the Australian Independent Distributors Association, the National Association of Cinema Operators and Independent Cinemas Australia.

SPA and the Australian Home Entertainment Distributors Association (AHEDA) also support a PG13 category, the latter on the condition that it would not be legally restricted.

On behalf of the $800 million a year digital and physical home entertainment industry, AHEDA endorses the principle of self-classification by industry under oversight of a government regulator and suggests the implementation of an online self-classification tool that will allow for greater flexibility, speed and reduced costs.

“The federated classification model has proven to be inefficient, outdated and unworkable,” AHEDA states in its submission.

The home entertainment group complains about the costs of classifying content, such as $2,530 for a 10 hour TV series on DVD, Blu-ray or VOD and an additional fee of $420 for processing decisions within five working days, and $2,760 for a 125-minute theatrical film.

Lodging an appeal with the Review Board costs $10,000 except in rare cases when the fee is waived.

Australian films would be a key beneficiary of a new PG13 category, with titles such as Top End Wedding, Ali’s Wedding, Three Summers, Jasper Jones and Emo the Musical all rated M but appropriate for and targeted to teenage audiences, according to FIA.

Illustrating that the Australian Classification Board’s rulings are often out of step with international counterparts, Maleficent was rated M here but PG in the US, the UK and New Zealand.

Spiderman: Far From Home was also tagged M in Oz but PG-13 in the US and 12 in the UK, while Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince got an M here, PG in the US and 12 in the UK.

The FIA quotes a Department of Arts and Communications survey which showed 20 per cent of respondents were confused about the difference between PG and M and 36 per cent were confused about the difference between M and MA15+.

Last year nearly three quarters of the new titles released on Australian screens were rated either PG (20 per cent), M (36 per cent) or MA15+ (17 per cent).

“In the absence of a PG13 rating, many family-friendly films incur an M-rating, resulting in lower attendance and diminished revenue returns,” it says.

“This problem may be more acute for Australian and independent films that lack the brand recognition and corresponding “franchise” familiarity of bigger titles.”

While there were more than 85 million admissions to Australian cinemas in 2018/19, the Classification Board recorded only 124 complaints about classification.

The FIA also calls for an overhaul of the the long-standing rules on trailers for films that are yet to be classified, which are assessed on the “likely classification” of the film being advertised.

These trailers can only be screened prior to films that have the same or higher classification than the likely rating.

The industry proposes that trailers for unclassified films are assessed on the actual content of the trailer and that trailers primarily would be be screened with films that are rated one category lower than the likely classification, as long as the content of the trailer would not be rated higher than the feature film it is being shown with.